I feel like this post has been a work in progress for ages, and you might feel the same if you know me, even a little bit. It is common for me to wake up every morning and my gaze turn to a pile of dusty cassette tapes on my shelf. Some days I look back on them with nostalgia and other days, I just look at them and wonder why I ever stopped making mixes on cassette. I felt like they became such a part of my identity, even before I knew what an identity was.
My story with mix tapes has a beginning, middle, and an end, like all stories do. However it’s a story with a bunch of noise in between and I think about continuing the story often. I can recall images of childhood glances toward my father’s big cassette cabinet, where every tape featured his incredibly meticulous handwriting. I can recall an image of sitting on the floor of my new boyfriend’s dorm room, sprawled out with CD’s, in an attempt to show him what I could do; Mix tape creation felt like a secret talent. I don’t remember what I put on that first tape for him except a song by The Clash, but I do remember I never made him another tape for the four years we were together. I struggled with how much time he spent making his own tapes for me, especially when we were in a long distance relationship. He was attempting to write a story featuring Gordon Lightfoot and They Might Be Giants songs, and I guess I realized I had stopped “writing” by then.
My story with mix tapes isn’t all sad; it’s a story of joy, laughter, questions, confusion, and a whole batch of emotions I can’t make sense of, but they are all perfectly outlined on the tapes I’ve made. I was inspired by an article I saw recently from NPR about conveying the right message when making a tape (specifically, how to not “look like a creeper”). When I read the article, a story immediately came to mind from high school where I had given a mix to a guy I’d really liked. I don’t think we had anything in common except for our mutual love for music. I made and gave the tape pictured above to him, which he examined closely and proclaimed “WHO MAKES THESE?!” I was really upset because I realized this was the first time I had realized making tapes had become my favorite way of expression. I was the “who” in the situation for the first time.
I specifically remember making this tape for Dude No. 2 (the number two is very significant. I didn’t like him as much as I liked Dude No. 1, and he was also a piece of number two). I’d considered the mix just to be a mix of songs I really liked but this tape was probably the first and only tape where I did not construct a mix full of meaning. My very idealistic teenage self searched for meaning in absolutely every lyric, and I spent hours agonizing over how the person giving me the tape felt about me, and what possessed them to put a certain song on the tape. I drove my friends absolutely nuts with the constant squealing and questioning over the next few years of tape looping; something they chose to slowly reveal to me much later. 🙂
I’ve got a ton of mixes and a ton of stories to tell through songs so I’ve decided to dedicate my next few blog posts to these tapes and stories. Some have been long worn out and some of them are still going strong with new mixes being created, and a few are really cringe worthy and give me feelings similar to the stomach flips I felt after dropping my beloved purple boombox in an elevator while moving. I consider that to be the “end” of the story, but there is a ton of feedback in between for your listening pleasure!
“Who Makes These?!”
“Shabby Doll”- Elvis Costello & The Attractions
“Beware of Darkness”- Concrete Blonde
“Wendell Gee”- R.E.M.
“Can’t Get There From Here”- R.E.M.
“A Million Miles Away”- The Plimsouls
“Candle In The Wind”- Elton John
“The Bucket”- Kings of Leon
“Hey! Hey! Nadine”- R.E.M.
“Burning Down”- R.E.M.
“All The Young Dudes”- World Party
“Skin Deep”- The Stranglers
“And Your Bird Can Sing”- The Beatles
“Other Arms”- Robert Plant
“In The Mood”- Robert Plant
“Take A Chance On Me”- Roxy Music
“Everywhere At Once”- The Plimsouls
“Love My Way”- The Psychedelic Furs
“(I’m Always Touched By Your) Presence, Dear” Blondie
“Mirror In The Bathroom”- The English Beat
(note: “Mirror In The Bathroom” was apparently the only song he liked).